Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah for Shabbat during Chanukah

This week’s Torah portion, Miketz, Genesis 41:1 – 44:17, continues Joseph’s saga in Egypt, including his release from prison and elevation to authority in Pharaoh’s court. This is followed by his first two encounters with his brothers ending with the arrest and confinement of Benjamin. The saga is approaching the culmination of the family separation which will see a restoration of the father and son as well as brother to brothers. Along with this, Joseph’s original visions of his own status before his family will soon be validated.

This week’s Haftarah is a special Chanukah reading, replacing the regular Miketz reading from 1st Kings 3:15 – 4:1. The Chanukah reading contains a series of restoration prophecies from Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7, which is also the regular Haftarah reading for Be-ha’alotekha, (Numbers 8:1–12:16).

According to Michael Fishbane, “The haftarah is taken from the first part of the book of Zechariah (chapters 1-8), which anticipates God’s return to Zion and the renewal of the Temple service.”[i] This passage, like so many in the Prophets, has very strong and definite messianic overtones;

“‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will live among you’—it is a declaration of ADONAI. ‘In that day many nations will join themselves to ADONAI and they will be My people and I will dwell among you.’ Then you will know that ADONAI-Tzva’ot has sent me to you. ADONAI will inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land and will once again choose Jerusalem.”[ii] (Zechariah 2:14-16)

Zechariah began prophesying while still still in exile and continued after the return. Singing and rejoicing once again is to be heard within Israel because ADONAI has promised that not only is He coming to Zion, but that He will live among His people once again. Again, from Fishbane, “Repeatedly, the prophet vividly testifies to the dawn of a new era: God’s reconciliation with Zion and the land, His forgiveness of sins, and the restoration of priestly and lay leadership in the persons of Joshua ben Jehozadak and Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel—heirs of the high priesthood and kingship, respectively.”[iii] And as seen in the above passage, this reconciliation and forgiveness is not just for Israel but for all creation that chooses to align themselves with the God of Israel.

There is so much in this passage that a single study cannot begin to do justice to it all. However, I want to highlight just a couple of observations that stand out. First, in chapter three, as the angel of the LORD deals with Joshua the high priest, please note that the Accuser says nothing. In verse one, he seems to want to say something but the angel of the LORD shoots him down immediately, calling upon ADONAI to silence him. We see this same attitude in John’s revelation, “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Anointed One, for the accuser of our brethren—the one who accuses them before our God day and night—has been thrown out,” (Revelation 12:10). In Luke, Yeshua affirmed this occurrence when He said, “I was watching satan (the accuser) fall like lightning from heaven,” (Luke 10:18). The Accuser is powerless before the LORD of Hosts.

Then, in Zechariah 3:8, the LORD announces, “…I will bring forth My servant the Branch.” It has been noted that “[t]he Branch (or “the Sprout”) has been understood in terms of a Davidic, most often messianic figure based on Jer. 23.5-6; 33.15-16 (cf. Isa. 11) … According to (Zechariah) 6.12-13, the Sprout will build the Temple and assume majesty.”[iv] It is quite possible that Isaiah saw this same “Branch” when he wrote, “Then a shoot will come forth out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch will bear fruit out of His roots,” (Isaiah 11:1). Might it not be possible that the shoot is divinely restored Judah (Zechariah 2:16), Jesse’s lineage; the branch is the servant of the LORD, springing forth not only from the Davidic line but most assuredly form the root structure that is Israel. This root and branch scenario may have been what Shaul (Paul) was envisioning when he told the believers in Rome, “[i]f the first fruit is holy, so is the whole batch of dough; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off and you—being a wild olive—were grafted in among them and became a partaker of the root of the olive tree with its richness, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, it is not you who support the root but the root supports you,” (Romans 11:16-18). Yeshua, the Branch, is securely attached to the root, Israel, and each of us today, Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Messiah are the fruit of that root, either naturally or grafted in.

One last observation comes from Zechariah 3:9, “For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.” It is important here to note that ADONAI has set a stone before Joshua and in doing so, “will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.” The stone symbolism cannot be diminished. “Therefore thus says ADONAI Elohim: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone, a firm foundation—whoever trusts will not flee in haste,” (Isaiah 26:16). Then from the Psalmist, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” (Psalm 118:22). Though reject, for a season, the stone remains. Yeshua is that stone, our rock, our sure foundation. His placement before the religious authorities of Israel has never been rescinded or recanted; and one day, He will remove “the iniquity of this land in a single day.” Maybe it will happen during this year’s “celebration of lights” and the true light of the world will be fully revealed at last.

Chag Semach

[i] Michael Fishbane. JPS Haftarah Commentary. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002), p 163

[ii] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life Version of the Bible, Snellville, GA: MJFB, 2014.

[iii] Michael Fishbane. JPS Haftarah Commentary. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002), p 163

[iv] Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p 1253

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.